The Oakcrest High School girls soccer team got off to a slow start this season.
Now, not much can hold the Falcons back. After a 1-3-1 start, Oakcrest (7-3-1) has won six games in a row.
A tough stretch of games early in the season left Oakcrest, a relatively inexperienced team, disheartened. The Falcons' outlook changed following a 2-0 win over Mainland Regional, a perennially talented team in the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference.
"That was the turnaround for us," junior defender Alex Imperatore said. "No one expected us to beat Mainland. We were really anxious to play that game, and it was such a confidence boost that we won."
The Falcons followed that win with a loss to Egg Harbor Township and a tie against Millville before their hot streak started.
Oakcrest's other losses were to Absegami in the season opener and to Hammonton, which is ranked No. 8 in The Press Elite 11.
"Momentum is a huge thing," Falcons coach Jason Hearn said. "When you lose a couple, it takes you a few (games) to get your bearings back."
Oakcrest has done more than just rebound from its early struggles. The Falcons' offense has exploded in its last six games and the defense has done its job as well. Oakcrest has outscored opponents 37-3 in that stretch.
The talent was there, despite the sluggish start. The Falcons have a number of young players who excel at the club level. It took time for them to jell with Oakcrest's other players.
Once that transition happened, the Falcons became tough to stop. Hearn credited his players' work ethic and a no-quit attitude.
"We pushed ourselves, and we all became a family," junior defender Devon Goetz said. "We work for each other."
Quality wins over Vineland and Ocean City highlight Oakcrest's recent success. Heading into the second half of the season, the Falcons are clicking at the right time.
Senior forward Jordyn Bronsky, who has 10 goals and five assists, remembers being a freshman on the varsity squad. She remembers feeling intimidated as a 14-year-old playing against juniors and seniors.
Bronsky can relate to Oakcrest's several sophomores and freshmen, all of whom have contributed on some level.
"It's difficult playing on the varsity level. It can be frightening," Bronsky said. "I told them we're all talented and capable of playing at the varsity level. They're here for a reason."
The Falcons face a tough test today when they host Hammonton (11-1). A strong game could erase the memory of a 2-0 loss to the Blue Devils on Sept. 10.
Hopes are renewed for a strong postseason effort. With each win, Oakcrest's confidence rises.
"(The win streak) kind of solidified their beliefs that they could continue to play at that level," Hearn said.
S.J. Coaches Tournament
Hammonton was the only area girls team selected to play in the South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament. The 16-team field was announced Monday.
The Blue Devils are the No. 8 seed and will host a first-round game against No. 9 Holy Cross, which is ranked No. 10 in The Press Elite 11. First round games must be played by Friday.
Contact Brittany Grugan: